by Liz Flaherty
Writers get asked a lot of questions, which, when you think about it, is kind of funny because something we all do to get our stories written is ask a lot of questions. We search the Internet, reference books, and old newspapers, and sometimes—and this is the most fun—we find experts who keep us from making fools of ourselves! But I regress (it happens all the time—it’s how I explain away my inability to stay on point.) A favorite of the questions I’m asked is how I name my people and the places in their stories.
If I’m lucky, and usually I am, the protagonists in the story will name themselves. I’m not sure how it happens, but I will go to sleep thinking of Her and Him and wake up knowing about Libby and Tucker.
That’s kind of where the luck part ends. When it comes to secondary character names, both first and last, I resort to phone books, baby name books, the Internet (again), and my memory. A person in my story-in-progress has the surname of Bessignano. Years ago, I worked with someone with this name and I always liked it. Using it may have been a mistake for the simple reason I can never remember how to spell it. However, when I tried to change her name to something like Jones, she wasn’t having any, so Bessignano she remains.
Then there is the issue with pets and places. I use profound things like Cat and Dog to begin with. When I name places, I delve once again in history and play games with what comes up. Hoosier Hills Cabins and Campground in Every Time We Say Goodbye had its origin in Hoosier Hills Orchard, which used to be down the road from where I live but no longer exists. However, the book I’m writing now called for an orchard name and, sigh, Hoosier Hills had been taken. Which brings me to my favorite way of all of finding names.
Go to your Facebook friends, give them a rudimentary description of who or what needs a name, and ask for help. Just as it is with friends in real life, cyber-friends never fail you. I’ve given prizes, made new friendships and renewed old ones with the naming of pets and places. Just the other day, my nephew Bill named a—no, never mind, you’ll see it in the book.
by Helen DePrima
I love naming characters, choosing names that sound good when spoken aloud or that have special significance to me personally. My characters quickly become living people to me, sometimes breaking loose in ways I never considered in my initial plotting.
Occasionally I use the names of real people or slight variations if the character is a sympathetic figure in the story. In my first book, I modeled the family servant/friend/confidant after the wonderful woman who kept our multi-generational household functioning during my teen years and used her name, Mattie Johnson. I think she would have been delighted.
In other cases, I choose names consistent with my characters’ detailed history even when I never go back that far in writing the story. Shelby Doucette in Into The Storm is Cajun; her mother loved Steel Magnolias and named her baby after the young heroine in the movie. Lucky I didn’t cite that origin – Shelby would have been five or six by the time the movie came out.
My selecting the Cameron family name harks back to the rebellion of 1745 in which the Jacobin faction fought the British overlords for Scotland’s freedom. Many Scots lost their ancestral holdings and migrated to the American colonies, some as political prisoners. Passion for ownership of land was an integral part of their heritage, as demonstrated by the Cameron’s of Cameron’s Pride.
In writing about the Professional Bull Riders community, I’ve bent over backwards to draw authentic portraits of the many fascinating figures, almost larger than life, without encroaching on anyone’s true identify. Certain names recur – Cody, Kody, Luis, Ty – so that I can rearrange the elements for realism. Occasionally I will use a rider’s real name as a tip of the hat to special achievement, like Navajo cowboy Guyetin Tsosie in The Bull Rider. I’m sure there’d be no objection to my mentioning icons in the sport like Ty Murray or Lane Frost.